Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stories for parents, children and grandchildren - Thoughts

The latest book I’ve read is “Stories for parents, children and grandchildren” of Paulo Coelho. This book is a collection of imaginary and real short stories that happened to different people and in different places around the world. Some of these stories have happened to the author himself.

This volume contains 103 stories; I chose to share with you the top five and the bottom five for me.

The Top Five

1. Where the monkey puts his hand
I said to a friend:
“It's odd that proverb, “An old monkey never puts his hand in the pot.”
“Yes, but it has its own logic,” he replied. “In India, hunters make a small hole in a coconut, put a banana inside and bury the whole thing. A monkey finds the coconut, puts his hand in the hole to grab the banana, but then can't get it out because his closed hand is too big for the hole. Instead of letting go of the banana, the monkey stays there wrestling with the impossible and gets caught.”
The same thing happens in our own lives. The need to have a particular thing - often something small and useless - ends up making us prisoners of that need.

I liked this story because it’s true that when we like something and believe that we need it, it becomes an obsession, we start ignoring all its bad sides and we can’t feel satisfied until we get it.

2. The window and the mirror
A very rich young man went to see a Rabbi in order to ask his advice about what he should do with his life. The Rabbi led him over to the window and asked him:
“What can you see through the glass?”
“I can see men coming and going and a blind man begging for alms in the street.” Then the Rabbi showed him a large mirror and said to him:
“Look in this mirror and tell me what you see.”
“I can see myself.”
“And you can't see the others. Notice that the window and the mirror are both made of the same basic material, glass; but in the mirror, because the glass is coated with a fine layer of silver, all you can see is yourself. You should compare yourself to these two kinds of glass. Poor, you saw other people and felt compassion for them. Rich - covered in silver - you see yourself. You will only be worth anything when you have the courage to tear away the coating of silver covering your eyes in order to be able to see again and love your fellow man.”

I liked the metaphor used in this story; it clearly reflects the nuance between being poor and rich. The same person can become someone different only because of money.

3. The importance of the cat in meditation

This story is about the monastery of Mayu Kagi which teaches the Zen Buddhism. An old master used to bring his cat during meditation in order to enjoy its company. When he died, the monastery continued to allow the cat to attend the classes. Generation after generation, people started believing that the cat is primordial to meditation and developed theses about that. This custom stopped when an allergic master decided to remove the cat from his daily practices.
But it took two hundred years for everything to return to normal, and all because, during that time, no one thought to ask why the cat was there.

I totally agree with the author; many of the customs and traditions we believe in today are only an heritage of our parents and grandparents and we don’t even know why we keep doing them. This phenomenon becomes more dangerous when these traditions are related to Religion. Indeed, the social, economic and political conditions in a country can influence people and make them use religion to invent new rituals which have actually no relation with religion. So I think we should brush up our religious heritage by always referring to the Basics (the Quran and the Sunna in my case).

4. The prayer that I forgot

This story is about the author himself. When he visited Sao Paulo, he discovered a prayer he’d read in the early eighties and that he totally forgot.

I hope it encourages every reader to write a prayer of their own, asking for themselves and for others the things that they judge to be most important.

Sometimes when we write something or make a product or give alms or help someone, we think that the impact of what we do is instantaneous and forgettable, but actually, the impact can last for a long time and can reach many people. So let’s be proactive and do what we think we should do to help humanity, and let’s leave a legacy after our death.

5. Hunting two foxes
A student of martial arts said to his teacher:
“I would like to be a great aikido fighter,” he said. “But I think I should also devote myself to judo, so that I am familiar with many different styles of fighting. That is the only way I can become the best.”
His teacher replied: “If a man goes into a field and starts running after two foxes at the same time, there will come a moment when the foxes will go their separate ways, and the man will be left not knowing which one to pursue. While he is pondering the problem, the foxes will be far away and he will have wasted both his time and his energy.
Anyone who wants to become a master must choose just ONE thing in which to become an expert. All else is mere cant.”

It’s true that everyone must have a general idea about every field, but if we want to become an expert, we have to choose only one field at a time, otherwise, we can be lost.

The bottom Five
  1. Not an example
  2. In Buddha and in the Virgin Mary
  3. The priest and his son
  4. The sorrowing mother
  5. The sorrowing father

The common denominator with all these stories is that the author tries to mix up Religion with Superstition or Fun, which makes the story become shocking and loose its credibility. I think that stories shouldn’t be imaginary when we talk about God, prophets, saints or real people in general. Imaginary stories should contain imaginary characters. Moreover, we should be more careful when we deal with Religion for fear of crossing the red lines or being disrespectful to religious Dogmas.



  1. Hi Amal
    - I loved the stories you've presented here. They tell us a lot :)
    But I especially liked "The prayer That I forgot.". Indeed, sometimes we do something and forget it completely; then, someone takes it and finds something interesting in it.
    This happened to me too; I'd written a document and completely forgot it because I thought it wasn't very useful, and one day by chance I found it in a website with my name below, and this made me very happy :)

    - For the others stories you didn’t present here, I've noticed the same thing as you, in most of Paulo Coelho's novels, he mixes spirituality and superstition.
    It's true that all his books try to give spiritual messages even in the most shocking "Eleven minutes", but the way he mixes different religions, personal philosophy and superstition makes books loose their spiritual values and become an ordinary books of fiction or fantasy.

  2. Happy that you liked the post, and thanks for your follow and for your comments always interesting :)